Thursday 1 August 2019

A bird in the hand...

I've been keeping a low profile for a while, spending a lot of time in my studio, much of that preparing for a solo exhibition at Shavasana Gallery and Café on Mayne Island. A small, cozy venue in a small, rural community, it made a fitting location for a a show focussed on one of my great passions: birds.

One particular wall in the gallery lead me to create a series of 10 small-scale coloured-pencil drawings of feathered creatures to be found on the island or nearby mainland. 

Included in this selection are these:

Dark-eyed Junco
(Horton Bay, Mayne Island)
Marsh Wren
(Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Ladner)

Downy Woodpecker
(Henderson Park, Mayne Island)

I have also been working on a new technique that allows me to create coloured pencil drawings that can be varnished and presented without glass. It's re-invigorated my art practice as I get to know a different way of using a familiar medium, and experience the associated challenges, surprises and successes.

Perched on a low branch (pictured above left), the only reason I noticed a lovely barred owl a few feet away from my path in Bennett Bay was due to the "mobbing" of the songbirds - robins, towhees, and the like - calling out their danger alert and drawing attention the predator in their midst. The raven (above right) was an early-morning companion at Horton Bay beach just after sunrise on summer day.

Rounding out the exhibition are drawings of other local birds:

Summer's End: Bushtit,
(Bennett Bay, Mayne Island)

I Love Vultures: Turkey Vulture
(Horton Bay, Mayne Island)

Each piece represents a personal encounter and the careful composition of the moment based on hurried, and sometimes blurry photographs that help jog my memory in addition to providing insight into the bird's anatomical detail and posture. The bushtit posed with rosehips (above) was observed in a meadow dotted with wild rose bushes on a late summer day, and in a few weeks' time the change in seasons revealed the remains of a sock-like nest dangling from a thorny branch. The turkey vulture (also above) is a juvenile who roosted nightly with his family in a tree beside the beach near my island cottage.

Bushtit nest

There is one exception in the show, and this little drawing is based on photographs of a bird I dearly wish I'd seen: a northern pygmy owl sighted by a friend-of-a-friend who graciously granted permission for me to use his photos as my reference material.

Northern Pygmy Owl,
(Source photograph: Ron Knelsen)

This palm-sized bird with its fierce expression makes a fitting "mascot" for my show. I look forward to a future encounter with a member of his species and to the other encounters with birds of all sorts that will continue to fuel my artistic passion.

Friday 15 February 2019

Contrasts and Values

It's been an inordinately long time since I last wrote. My excuse? I don't really have one other than I've simply been living life and (dare I admit it?) not been very focussed on art making.

It has, however, been a time of contrast. I have fluctuated between urban life on the mainland and rural life on Mayne Island. I've travelled to the wild west coast of Vancouver Island where storms were the order of the day - including a rare and utterly spectacular mid-winter, middle-of-the-night thunder storm - to sunny Mexico where despite balmy temperatures I heard many complaints about how "cold" it was, and then back home to an unseasonable interlude of what's been affectionately (or not) dubbed "Snowmageddon" here in southwestern BC - a place where the first hint of snowflakes brings panic but inches of the white stuff can mean only that hell has indeed frozen over.

Chesterman Beach, Tofino

On Mayne Island, daffodils were blooming back in January when it seemed spring had come early...

... but this is what they look like now - that is, in spots where the snow didn't bury them completely...

Whatever the country or climate, birds always factor into my experiences. In Mexico most days during my daily beach walks I observed an elegant egret fishing in the surf...

Snowy egret

... and pelicans smoothly soaring just above the waves.

Brown pelicans

And each morning, just outside my balcony, this lively woodpecker made an appearance.

Gila woodpecker (I think)

Since returning to Mayne there has been just one better-weather day that allowed me to get out for a good, long walk. I saw flocks migrating robins congregating in the snow-free areas created by tree cover and weak February sunshine.,,

Robins in a snow-free zone

...mergansers sunning themselves on my own nearby beach...

Common mergansers

...and green-winged teal foraging on that same shoreline.

Green-winged teal

The memory of daily barefoot beach-walks in Mexico offers an amusing contrast to the past few sub-zero days which have required multiple layers of sweaters and wool socks, topped off by a toque whether outdoors or inside my poorly insulated Mayne Island cottage. Instead of relaxing by a swimming pool observing flocks of free-loading grackles, I have spent a significant amount of time attempting to thaw frozen water pipes with a hair dryer, only to be stuck waiting for a plumber to fix the leak that was subsequently revealed - a plumber whose snowed-in van made the wait longer than would normally be expected.

Freeloading grackle eyeing up my lunch

There's nothing like a few days of deprivation to make one appreciate conveniences like running water. In an effort to cope, I channeled my pioneer ancestors, recalled back-country hiking experiences where drinking water was filtered from frog ponds, and I thought long and hard about the fact that running water - a convenience most of us take far too easily for granted - is denied to so many, including a significant number of First Nations communities here in Canada. I recognize that I am very fortunate.

The past few snowed-in days have provided a quiet time to consider contrasts and think about values. I have also developed ideas for new art which will hopefully be the topic of my next blog post in the not-to-distant future as I get refocused and head back to work in the studio.

Till then, I'm hunkered down in my little yellow cottage in the snowy woods, appreciating being able to turn on the tap and see water flow freely, thinking about the contrast summer will bring, how in other parts of the world the sun is shining on birds fishing on a warm, sandy beach, and valuing this quiet time of reflection.

And as for Lily, the snow can't melt soon enough so she can resume her normal ball-playing activities.